Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for August, 2017

Sexual harassment of graduate students by faculty is a national problem

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2017

University of Wisconsin-Madison’s anonymous complaints of sexual harassment often rest on “institutional memory” and there is no actual requirement in place to document them, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

There are two channels for sexual harassment reports at the university. Students and employees can file formal complaints, which results in an investigation by the Title IX coordinator’s office, or they can report through an informal resolution that lets accusers remain anonymous but does not allow the university to mete out more severe penalties.

UW-Madison officials told the Wisconsin State Journal that the university is working on clearer policies for both of these processes, but confirmed that there is no policy in place requiring employees to track anonymous complaints.

The lack of a formal system to track anonymous sexual harassment complaints is particularly troublesome given the number of complaints made against faculty members by co-workers or students at UW-Masison. It’s fairly common for female graduate students at the university to experience sexual harassment from faculty members. A 2015 survey on sexual misconduct found that of those women who experienced harassment, 22.2 percent reported that their harasser was a faculty member at UW-Madison.

Experts interviewed by the Wisconsin State Journal — Neena Chaudhry, director of education and senior counsel at the National Women’s Law Center, and Saunie Schuster, a co-founder of the Association of Title IX Administrators — said this is big problem for universities. Universities may not know that a faculty member is a serial harasser if they haven’t recorded multiple complaints, and the institution would be a legal target for sexual harassment victims.

The university responded to the Journal and said it is in the process of developing a system to record these allegations.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is hardly alone, however. Universities across the country have poor policies to address harassers in their university systems, even if that person has harassed people multiple times. Some universities may actively protect faculty who are accused of harassment.

In March 2015, Sujit Choudhry, the dean at UC Berkeley School of Law, was accused of harassment by his executive assistant. Berkeley investigators found that he had in fact harassed his assistant Tyann Sorrell, but in April of this year, the university reached a deal with him anyway, allowing him to receive research funding, keep tenure, and avoid any charges. His pay was reduced 10 percent and he had to apologize to Sorrell, but even with his pay cut, he made $373,500 annually.

Soon after the university reached this deal, experts on Title IX policy told ThinkProgress that the Choudhry deal is fairly common, because universities tend to identify more with the alleged harasser than the victim. In many cases, faculty members have more resources than the victim, and could drag out a lawsuit against the university after it metes out serious disciplinary consequences.

And too often, serial harassers are allowed to continue their harassment. In March, the Associated Press looked at 112 cases from January 2013 to April 2016 at nine campuses in the University of California system. The investigation found that rumors about the accused faculty circulated for years until universities took any kind of action??and that even after they did so, many faculty members kept their jobs.

The issue of faculty harassment of graduate students is a national one, and universities will have to adjust their policies if they’re going to address it. In 2016, researchers who surveyed 525 graduate students on sexual and gender-based harassment found that 38 percent of female participants and 23.4 percent of male participants self-reported that they had experienced sexual harassment from faculty or staff.

More recent research shows that faculty harassers are often serial harassers and engage in serious forms of harassment such as sexual assault. According to a study released in July, “A Systematic Look at a Serial Problem: Sexual Harassment of Students by University Faculty,” most harassers studied have physically rather than verbally harassed students. Some faculty harassers exhibited “domestic-abuse like behaviors.” Over half of the faculty cases studied — 53 percent — were alleged to have participated in serial harassment.

Graduate students hope to secure protection from harassment as they fight for their labor rights. Graduate students say that union representation and collective bargaining will help them get contracts that cover issues of sexual harassment.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on August 21, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress. She covers economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits.

Employees are not fully protected by the First Amendment

Monday, August 21st, 2017

Private employment is at will. The most productive or most loyal worker is subject to termination at any time. Employers are not required to show cause or pay severance. The only exception is getting fired for a discriminatory reason that violates state or federal law.

Recent developments have people wondering if they can be fired for speaking their mind or expressing political views, especially off the clock and away from work. In many cases, the answer is yes, when “free speech” activities reflect poorly on the company or violate company policy or employment agreements.

What happens in Vegas does not stay in Vegas

In the wake of the protests and counterprotests in Charlottesville, Virginia, some attendees were “outed” on social media and subsequently fired by their employers. Companies quickly cut ties with employees photographed in Ku Klux Klan or Nazi regalia.

But what about carrying a Confederate flag or a tiki torch to protest removal of a statute? Or conversely, what about antifa or Black Lives Matter supporters depicted in clashes with alt-right marchers?

Courts have generally upheld the right of private employers to terminate employees for conduct in their private lives that is detrimental to the company’s goodwill, such as drunken debauchery or photo ops with hate groups.

For public employees, the standard is higher – does the private conduct compromise the ability of the employee or the agency to serve the public?

Don’t bite the hand that feeds you

Employees who badmouth their employers, especially on Facebook or Twitter, should not be surprised to get pink slips. Whistleblowers are protected from retaliation for reporting criminal activity or rights violations, but within limits.

In a recent case in Minnesota, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the firing of six Jimmy John’s employees who complained about the company’s lack of sick leave. Rather than discussing labor law, which is protected speech, they insinuated via posters and press releases that the company’s sandwiches might be tainted by workers with contagious illness.

As the fired workers were involved in a unionization effort, the National Labor Relations Board and a three-judge appeals panel ruled that the firings were essentially retaliation. The full 8th Circuit appeals court disagreed, reinforcing that employees do not have a First Amendment right to disparage their employer’s products or services.

On the other hand, some experts say James Damore may have grounds for wrongful termination after Google fired him for posting a “manifesto” about gender diversity. Despite questionable science – asserting women are biologically more “neurotic” than men – his opinion was posted on an internal forum that Google created to discuss workplace issues.

Google asserts that Damore was let go because his incendiary treatise was derogatory and discriminatory, in violation of company policy and perhaps federal law. Damore has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, saying that he acted within his rights to discuss his working environment and his employer’s discriminatory practices.

Discrimination is not a business reason

The First Amendment is a smaller shield within the context of employment. Employers have some latitude to separate from employees for objectionable speech. But terminations cannot be based on a worker’s race, national origin, gender or religion.

These cases are always dependent on legal precedent, new interpretations, enforcement priorities or recent changes in the law itself. If you believe an employer has unfairly punished or fired you for protected speech, an employment law attorney can explore your legal remedies.

This blog was originally published by Passman & Kaplan, P.C., Attorneys at Law on August 18, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Authors: Founded in 1990 by Edward H. Passman and Joseph V. Kaplan, Passman & Kaplan, P.C., Attorneys at Law, is focused on protecting the rights of federal employees and promoting workplace fairness.  The attorneys of Passman & Kaplan (Edward H. Passman, Joseph V. Kaplan, Adria S. Zeldin, Andrew J. Perlmutter, Johnathan P. Lloyd and Erik D. Snyder) represent federal employees before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and other federal administrative agencies, and also represent employees in U.S. District and Appeals Courts.

Workers May Have Just Killed Missouri’s Right to Work Law

Friday, August 18th, 2017

In a badly needed victory for organized labor, a coalition of workers’ rights groups in Missouri is poised to halt a devastating new anti-union law from taking effect later this month.

The deceptively named “right-to-work” (RTW) legislation—quickly passed and signed into law this February by Missouri’s new Republican governor, Eric Greitens—would prohibit unions in private sector workplaces from automatically collecting dues from the workers they are legally required to represent. Designed to decimate unions by cutting off their financial resources, RTW laws are currently in place in 27 other states.

Though the law is set to take effect on August 28, the pro-union We Are Missouri coalition, led by the Missouri AFL-CIO, says it has collected enough signatures from voters to call for a state-wide referendum in November 2018 that could nullify the legislation. Implementation of the RTW law would be put on hold at least until next year’s referendum results are known.

We Are Missouri spokesperson Laura Swinford tells In These Times that Republican legislators had been wanting to pass a RTW law for years, but were blocked by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon. As soon as Greitens was elected last November, she says, “folks were prepared.”

Missouri allows residents to call a referendum on new legislation by collecting signatures from at least 5 percent of voters from six of the state’s eight congressional districts. “When Gov. Greitens signed the so-called ‘right-to-work’ law, we had a petition ready to go,” Swinford explains.

We Are Missouri estimated it would need to collect at least 100,000 signatures to call a referendum on the RTW law. Swinford says volunteer canvassers went to festivals, concerts, county fairs and other events in every county to gather signatures. “Our volunteers have gone out there day after day, weekend after weekend, going signature by signature, page by page.”

So far, the coalition has tripled its initial estimation, collecting over 300,000 signatures. During a rally at the state capitol today, We Are Missouri turned in the petition along with 310,567 signatures.

“We have gotten a tremendous response,” Swinford says. “We believe we’re going to qualify in all eight congressional districts, which is pretty unprecedented here in Missouri. We have way overshot our goals.”

The National Right to Work Foundation sued to block the initiative on the grounds that the petition contained bad grammar, but the Missouri Court of Appeals threw out the lawsuit last month. Now that it appears they will not be able to prevent a referendum from appearing on next year’s ballot, Missouri RTW advocates are gearing up for a showdown in November 2018.

Over the past week, three anti-union political action committees in the state have received a total of $600,000 in dark money contributions. At least $100,000 of this money came from Gov. Greitens’s own nonprofit. Meanwhile, the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity Foundation recently launched an expensive “education campaign”—including ads, door-to-door canvassing, and phone calls—to convince voters to approve the RTW law.

Swinford says anti-union forces are also resorting to “old-school intimidation tactics.” Last week, four men circulating pro-RTW brochures were spotted carrying pistols outside the Buchanan County courthouse in St. Joseph.

“You can open carry here in Missouri, but when you see something like that in front of your county courthouse, it’s alarming and upsetting,” says Swinford. “It’s going be a hard campaign, especially when you have to deal with those sorts of tactics. We just hope that people are safe.”

Missouri’s Republican lawmakers also recently passed legislation that will cut the St. Louis minimum wage from its current rate of $10 per hour to $7.70. The “right-to-work” law would also likely have a negative effect on worker pay, as wages are on average 3.2 percent lower in RTW states than those without RTW laws on the books.

Swinford says RTW would be “terribly hurtful to many Missouri families. It not only would lower wages across the board, it would erode benefits and make worksites less safe.”

In the past five years, more states have passed RTW legislation that at any time since the 1950s. Until recently, most RTW states were located in the former Confederacy, but now even traditional union strongholds like Michigan and Wisconsin are “right-to-work.”

Anti-union forces are not resting on their laurels. Earlier this year, House Republicans introduced a national RTW law, and the Supreme Court could soon hear a case that threatens to impose RTW on the entire public sector.

But anti-union legislation has been defeated before. In 2011, labor groups in Ohio called a referendum that successfully overturned the controversial Senate Bill 5, which would have severely curtailed public sector workers’ collective bargaining rights.

“What happened in Ohio shows that it’s possible to really educate folks and show them there’s a way to stand up when your legislature overreaches,” Swinford says.

“Missouri is not the only state that has a problem with extremists running amok in the legislature,” she continues. “We have the ability here through the referendum process to call them out on this behavior, to stand up and say, ‘Enough. We want you to work on the real problems we have in our state.’”

Swinford notes that she and other organizers have been amazed at how the referendum campaign has unified people of different backgrounds and communities. “People have really joined together on this. We have a lot of confidence in Missouri voters that they’ll be there in November 2018.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on August 18, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jeff Schuhrke is a Working In These Times contributor based in Chicago. He has a Master’s in Labor Studies from UMass Amherst and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in labor history at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Follow him on Twitter: @JeffSchuhrke.

Donald Trump's policies will mean more workers dead on the job

Thursday, August 17th, 2017

Donald Trump’s rollbacks of worker protections could cost lives. Kathleen Rest, executive director of the Union of Concerned Scientists and former acting director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and David Michaels, a public health professor and former assistant secretary of labor, leave no room for doubt on that front. People die from workplace injuries and work-related diseases every day:

People like 25-year-old Donovan Weber who suffocated in a trench collapse in Minnesota. Or Michael McCort, Christopher Irvin, Antonio Navarrete and Frank Lee Jones who were killed at a power plant in Florida when molten slag reaching 1,000 degrees poured down on them as they tried to unplug a tank. Or Wanda Holbrook, whose head was crushed by a malfunctioning robot as she adjusted machinery in Michigan.

Each day in the United States, 13 people are killed as a direct result of hazardous working conditions. And, more than 10 times that number die of work-related diseases that are less sudden but no less devastating.

And Trump’s policies are going to make that worse:

Since January, we’ve seen delays and rollbacks in workplace protections. For example, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has proposed weakening protections for workers exposed to cancer-causing beryllium and delayed enforcement of its silica rule, increasing the likely incidence of lung disease. It has delayed the electronic submission of injury and illness data and stopped releasing public information about enforcement actions, inhibiting public and researchers’ access to data that can inform prevention.

And Congress has permanently terminated OSHA’s ability to fine employers with a long-standing pattern of injury and illness record-keeping violations, a previously important signal to others in the industry.

Equally worrisome are proposed budget cuts for research, education and training designed to improve the health and safety of our nation’s workplaces — research that enhances knowledge on existing and future hazards; that underpins government policies and workplace practices; and that spurs innovations in workplace safety.

But Trump claims those rollbacks are going to be good for corporate profits, and that’s what he cares about. Certainly not workers’ lives.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos Labor on August 15, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

In Their Own Words: Why Immigrant Worker Protections Must Be Extended

Wednesday, August 16th, 2017

A primary goal of the labor movement is to make every job in our country a good job. To do that, we must and we will stand with every worker in the fight for basic rights and dignity on the job. More than 1 million working people are in danger of having their work permits stripped away if the Trump administration ends the Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programs. This is unacceptable. We will fight for and with them just as they have fought for and with all of us.

The DACA and TPS programs help working people and they help the country. Here are just a few stories of union members whose lives have been changed because of these programs. Please send us your story of how DACA and TPS made your life better and helped you exercise your basic rights and find dignity on the job.

Reyna Sorto, Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) member:

Employers exploit immigrant workers because they think our fear will keep us silent from speaking out against abuses, even though TPS is not permanent, it does provide a level of protection that can give a worker strength to speak truth to power and denounce exploitative working conditions.

Karen Reyes, DACAmented teacher in Austin, Texas, and member of AFT:

DACA made me visible. It made me realize that those opportunities that I thought were not for me—were now possible. DACA made it possible for me to be able to find a job in teaching. It made it possible to be able to earn money to be help out my mom while she went through numerous health issues. DACA made it possible for me to teach children who are deaf and hard of hearing. DACA made me find my voice and made me be able to live without fear. We must #DefendDACA because after living here for 26 years—I am here to stay.

Gerdine Vessagne, housekeeper in Miami Beach, Florida:

TPS has allowed me to provide for my five children, including two back home and three born here. But this isn’t just about me. Over 50,000 Haitian nationals working in the U.S. have this protected status. We are the engine of Florida’s hospitality industry, much of which greatly depends on our labor.

Cecilia Luis, housekeeper in Orlando, Florida.:

I know a lot of people here that don’t eat or sleep because they’re worried they’ll be sent back to Haiti. It’s not as easy to leave when you’re sending money to your family to help them survive. My God knows everything, and I’m asking him to speak to their hearts so they don’t do this. A lot of people will suffer.

Areli Zarate, DACAmented teacher in Austin, Texas:

DACA allowed me the opportunity to come out of the shadows and lose the fear of deportation. I have a social security number and work permit which gives me the opportunity to follow my dream and teach. I am about to begin my fourth year of teaching with a big heart filled with love and passion for my profession. I am dedicated to my students and it’s hard to see myself doing something else. Yet, every time I have to renew my DACA I am reminded that my status is temporary. I am currently pending a decision on my renewal and I am praying to God that I will be allowed to teach for another two years until my next renewal.

Maria Elena Durazo, UNITE HERE General Vice President for Immigration, Civil Rights and Diversity, spoke for many working people in the hospitality industry:

The American hospitality industry runs because of the women and men on DACA and TPS working in it. These immigrants prove their value to this country every day, and many have been living in and contributing to America for more than a decade. These men and women have deep roots in this country, and are longtime employees, spouses, parents, neighbors and community members. Losing DACA and TPS would destroy both their families and the hotel industry that is built on their work. We must extend TPS and protect DACA—for our sisters and brothers working under them, for their families and for the health of the American economy.

These stories make it clear that the ability to exploit any worker undermines standards for all working people. Increasing the pool of vulnerable workers in our country directly threatens the labor movement’s mission of raising wages and improving working conditions. We call on our nation’s leaders to reverse the destructive course we are on and take these immediate steps to reduce the fear in our workplaces:

  • Defend DACA and protect this vital young workforce;
  • Continue TPS for all affected countries; and
  • Protect labor rights by preventing immigration enforcement from interfering with other important roles of government.

The words of AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka sum it up:

DACA and TPS holders are members of our families, our unions and our communities who have made positive contributions to our society for many years. We will not allow them to lose their rights and status. We will stand with them in the fight to defend these programs as a necessary part of our long-term struggle to ensure that all working people have rights at work and the freedom to negotiate together for fair pay and conditions.

We call on the Trump administration to demonstrate a genuine commitment to lifting up the wages, rights and standards of all working people by acting to defend and extend vital DACA and TPS protections.

This blog was originally published at AFLCIO.org on August 16, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars. Previous experience includes Communications Director for the Darcy Burner for Congress Campaign and New Media Director for the Kendrick Meek for Senate Campaign, founding and serving as the primary author for the influential state blog Florida Progressive Coalition and more than 10 years as a college instructor teaching political science and American History. His writings have also appeared on Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.

Defense secretary reveals the trans military ban is in limbo

Tuesday, August 15th, 2017

Secretary of Defense James Mattis sent some mixed messages Monday when he stopped by the Pentagon newsroom to discuss President Trump’s intended ban on transgender personnel in the military—which the president announced via Twitter. At best, the proposal remains in limbo and is still being studied; at worst, it’s inevitably still coming.

The key takeaway Mattis revealed is that Trump has yet to actually issue anything other than a few tweets and public comments. “I am waiting right now to get the President’s guidance in and that I expect to be very soon,” he explained.

In the meantime, the military is continuing to study the issue, consistent with what Mattis announced when he agreed to delay the implementation of transgender recruitment by six months. The change to recruitment policy was initially set to take place July 1.”The policy is going to address whether or not transgenders [sic] can serve under what conditions, what medical support they require, how much time would they be perhaps non-deployable leaving others to pick up their share of everything,” Mattis said. “There’s a host of issues and I’m learning more about this than I ever thought I would and it’s obviously very complex to include the privacy issues which we respect.” The reference to “privacy” is not a good sign: it’s a talking point deployed by opponents of transgender equality.

Mattis seemed dismissive of the research that had already been done before his predecessor, Ash Carter, announced last summer that the ban on trans military service would be lifted—including a massive study by the RAND Corporation, one of the most respected military think tanks. “I’m not willing to sign up for the [Rand Corp.] numbers you just used, and I’m not willing to sign up for the concern any of [the transgender service members] have,” the secretary said. “And I’m not willing to prejudge what the study will now bring out.”

Mattis also noted that the decision has been impacted by the lack of political appointees overseeing personnel issues at the Pentagon. He wants to “get them in to be able to answer those questions” before the ban is implemented.

The secretary stood by comments made by General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who said that nothing would change until Trump actually issued guidance, and “in the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect.” Mattis also said that his people were advising the White House, “but they write their own policy, of course.”

Besides his tweets, the only other comment Trump has made was at a press gaggle last week when he said that he’s doing the military “a great favor” by just implementing the ban and avoiding a “very complicated” and “very confusing” issue.

Asked about the haphazard way Trump announced the policy, Mattis defended the president. “You all elected—the American people elected—the commander-in-chief,” he said. “They didn’t elect me. So the commander-in-chief in our country, in our system of government, is elected by the people, and he has that authority and responsibility.”

In the meantime, thousands of transgender personnel, who are already serving and have not disrupted the readiness of the military, await news about the fate of their careers.

This article originally appeared at ThinkProgress on August 15, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Zack Ford is the LGBTQ Editor at ThinkProgress.org, where he has covered issues related to marriage equality, transgender rights, education, and “religious freedom,” in additional to daily political news. In 2014, The Advocate named Zack one of its “40 under 40” in LGBT media, describing him as “one of the most influential journalists online.” He has a passion for education, having received a Bachelor’s in Music Education at Ithaca College and a Master’s in Higher Education at Iowa State University, and he relishes opportunities to return to classroom settings to discuss social justice issues with students.

Oregon passes law protecting workers from predatory scheduling by bosses

Monday, August 14th, 2017

Good news for Oregon workers in the retail and fast food industries. The state has become the first to pass a law protecting workers from some of the worst scheduling abuses employers love so much.

One in six Oregonians receive less than 24 hours of notice before their shifts, according to a survey the University of Oregon Labor Education and Research Center published in February.

Now, Oregon is mandating that the state’s largest employers in the retail, hospitality and food service industries — those with more than 500 workers — give employees their schedules in writing at least a week ahead of time.

They’ll also have to give workers a 10-hour break between shifts, or pay them extra.

Refinery 29 interviewed some workers about how the law would affect their jobs; according to Tia Raynor:

I worked for an international company that owns a bunch of coffee shops in airports. So while I was working there, they told me that I would have a set schedule. Within seven months, my schedule had changed eight times.

“I am a veteran with PTSD, due to being in Iraq a couple of times, and I was not able to go to my group counseling sessions because my schedule got changed.”

Laws like this should be on the Democratic agenda at all levels: Democratic state legislatures could be passing scheduling protections just as Republican state legislatures pass anti-abortion and anti-union laws, and if Democrats want to campaigning to retake Congress on a good jobs agenda, this belongs right alongside minimum wage and paid leave.

This blog was originally published at DailyKos Labor on August 11, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is the labor editor at Daily Kos. Previous. she was senior writer at Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO. She has a PhD in sociology from Princeton University and has taught at Dartmouth College and the Princeton Theological Seminary. She is the author of “I Belong to This Band, Hallelujah: Community, Spirituality, and Tradition among Sacred Harp Singers.”

Elon Musk May Be a “Visionary,” But His Vision Doesn’t Seem To Include Unions

Friday, August 11th, 2017

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been making more headlines than usual lately. Shortly after the business magnate claimed he had received governmental approval to build a hyperloop from New York to Washington, D.C., he got into a public argument with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about the future of artificial intelligence. Musk also recently made comments regarding the production of Tesla’s new Model 3, a battery-electric sedan. “We’re going to go through at least six months of manufacturing hell,” he told journalists.

It’s hard to know exactly what constitutes “manufacturing hell,” but it might also be difficult to ever find out. That’s because, since last November, Tesla has required employees to sign confidentiality agreements which prevent them from discussing workplace conditions. This policy has faced increased criticism since February, as workers at Tesla’s Fremont, Calif. plant have expressed concern over wages, safety and their right to unionize. They have reached out to the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) union, which is now intervening.

Last week, some of those workers made specific demands. A group called Tesla Workers’ Organizing Committee sent a letter to the company’s board members seeking safety improvements and a clearer promotion policy. The letter cites 2015 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the last full year for which such information is available. “For that year, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that our injury rate was higher than that of sawmills and slaughter houses. Accidents happen every day,” reads the letter. The committee also addressed Tesla’s resistance to workplace organizing: “We should be free to speak out and to organize together to the benefit of Tesla and all of our workers. When we have raised this with management we have been met with anti-union rhetoric and action.”

Attention was originally drawn to the factory’s organizing fight after Tesla employee Jose Moran published a Medium post on February 9. Moran raises safety concerns, writing that, a few months ago, six of the eight people on his work team were on leave due to workplace injuries. He also breaks down problems with the factory’s wages. According to Moran, workers at the Tesla factory make between $17 and $21 in Alameda county, an area where the living wage is more than $28 an hour. Moran wrote that some of his coworkers make a two-hour commute to work because they can’t afford to live near the factory.

“Tesla’s Production Associates are building the future: They are doing the hard work to build the electric cars and battery packs that are necessary to reduce carbon emissions. But they are paid significantly below the living wage for one adult and one child in our community,” Maria Noel Fernandez, campaign director of the local worker advocacy group Silicon Valley Rising, told In These Times via email. “We believe that green jobs should be good jobs, and that they have a right to organize and advocate for themselves and their families.”

The day after Moran published his post, employees passed out literature containing the piece during a shift change at the factory. According to an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) made by workers, and obtained by Capital and Main, this prompted management to schedule a meeting where workers were told they couldn’t pass out information unless it was pre-approved by the employer. The same NLRB charge accuses Tesla of illegal surveillance and intimidation.

Moran’s piece, and the subsequent accusations, were taken seriously enough to be addressed by Elon Musk directly. In an email to employees, obtained by Buzzfeed, Musk declared that safety concerns ignored vast improvements established in 2017. Tesla also put out a statement echoing Musk’s claims. The company’s data points to a 52 percent reduction in lost time incidents and a 30 percent reduction in recordable incidents during the company’s first quarter.

Musk promised a “really amazing party” for workers after the Model 3 reached volume production. In addition to the party, the factory would eventually include free frozen yogurt stands and a roller coaster. “It’s going to get crazy good,” he wrote. As for Moran, Musk claimed he was a paid UAW plant and that he had looked into his claims and discovered they weren’t true. The UAW, he explained, “does not share our mission” and their “true allegiance is to the giant car companies, where the money they take from employees in dues is vastly more than they could ever make from Tesla.”

This wouldn’t be the last time Musk would use such language in regards to a union. Six months after Tesla acquired Germany’s Grohmann Engineering, Musk found himself clashing with the country’s dominant metalworkers’ union, IG Metall. The union intervened to insist that Tesla straighten out a wage discrepancy that had some workers claiming they were making 30 percent less than union rates. Musk sent a letter to Grohmann employees offering a one-time bonus—an extra 150 Euros a month—and Tesla shares instead of a pay increases that the employees desire. “I do not believe IG Metall shares our mission,” reads the letter.

“We’re a money-losing company,” Musk told The Guardian in May. “This is not some situation where, for example, we are just greedy capitalists who decided to skimp on safety in order to have more profits and dividends and that kind of thing.” Two months after that interview, Automotive News reported that Musk had been the highest paid auto executive of 2016, exercising stock options worth $1.34 billion. Musk’s incredible economic success hasn’t exactly been generated via an unfettered free market. According to data compiled by the Los Angeles Times in 2015, Musk’s companies have benefited from billions in government subsidies.

Whether or not Tesla’s board members are receptive to employee demands, it seems clear that the workers’ struggle is not going away anytime soon.

This article was originally published at In These Times on August 10, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Michael Arria covers labor and social movements. Follow him on Twitter: @michaelarria

Labor Department wants to reward financial advisors at the expense of consumers

Thursday, August 10th, 2017

The Labor Department would like to delay a rule that would require financial advisors to act in the best interest of their customers and their retirement accounts.

The federal court filing, made on Wednesday, said the department wants to delay implementation of the rule to July 2019. The full implementation of the rule is currently set for January 2018.

In February, President Donald Trump ordered a review of the Obama-era regulation. Financial companies and lobbyists representing them have opposed the rule. On the same day of the order, White House advisor Gary Cohn, who is a former Goldman Sachs executive, told the Wall Street Journal he thought it was a “bad rule.” Congress has introduced bills trying to kill the rule on multiple occasions.

Right now, there are two standards investors must be aware of — the fiduciary standard and suitability standard. A financial advisor operating under what is called the “suitability standard” is only required to make sure a client’s investment is suitable for the client’s finances, age, and risk tolerance at that point in time, but they don’t have a great legal obligation to monitor the investment for the client.

But under the fiduciary standard, an advisor has to keep monitoring the investment as well as the customer’s overall financial picture. Under the fiduciary standard, advisors also must disclose all of their conflicts of interest, fees, and commissions. Essentially, this makes it more difficult for advisors to push investments that will make them money but may not be in the best interest of their clients.

Retirement plans have changed a lot since the 1970s, when more private workers were enrolled in defined-benefit plans funded by their employers that promised a certain monthly benefit once they retired. Now more people have defined-contribution plans, which don’t promise a specific benefit for people when they retire, requiring them to contribute money to an account they are responsible for. Only 10 percent of workers older than 22 have a traditional pension and only 6 percent of Millennials do. Most workers have to choose how to invest these contributions and manage their own retirement savings but most Americans aren’t knowledgeable on investment decisions.

A 2016 Prudential Investments survey of more than 1,500 Americans showed 42 percent of Americans surveyed didn’t know how their assets were allocated in their portfolios, and 40 percent said they didn’t know how to prepare for retirement. Investment terms are often difficult to understand and investors may be overwhelmed by choices.

The financial industry argument against the rule is essentially that a commission system is necessary to pay for financial advice for the average investor, despite the adverse incentives it creates. Gary Burtless, an economist and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, has disputed this argument.

“This claim does not seem terribly compelling. There are alternative ways to compensate financial advisors that do not create an obvious conflict between the interests of advisors and retirement savers,” Burtless writes.

The financial industry tried to persuade the public that investors were up in arms over the rule. The Financial Services Institute claimed that consumers sent over 100,000 letters with opinions on the rule. But Money reviewed 100 of the letters FSI claimed were from investors, and found that 64 percent came from financial advisors and people involved in financial companies.

The Trump administration would have to jump through numerous hoops to reverse the progress made on the rule, however, just as Obama officials did when they first wanted to advance the rule. The final rules were issued last year, but first the department took thousands of public comments, held four days of hearings, and 100 stakeholder meetings. The administration would have to field all of these comments and go through this process again to justify whatever changes it would make. It took about six years for the Obama administration to advance the fiduciary rule.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgess on August 10, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress. She covers economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits.

EEOC lawsuits allege sex discrimination in physical ability tests

Wednesday, August 9th, 2017

Three different cases. Three different theories of gender discrimination. But one common thread – an old school presumption that certain blue-collar jobs are a “man’s work.”

The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) has filed suit against three U.S. employers for sex discrimination in hiring. The lawsuits allege overt bias against female job candidates in the form of bogus physical tests, physical appearance, and a blatant “no girls allowed” hiring policy.

EEOC takes a strong stand against gender bias

Perhaps it was simply a coincidence of timing. But the EEOC is sending a message in three unconnected cases that gender discrimination will not be tolerated in 21st century America. When the EEOC was unable to resolve each of the cases through pre-litigation channels, it filed suit against a railroad (CSX Transportation), a shipping company (R&L Carriers) and a parking management service.

  • At CSX, female applicants failed physical requirement tests at a substantially higher rate than male candidates. Rather than indicating women are physically unfit for the industry, the EEOC contends that the tests favor men through arbitrary benchmarks.

Apparent rationale: They all take the same test. Not our fault if the ladies can’t cut it.

  • In the Eagle Parking case, a woman was turned down on the presumption – based on nothing more than her appearance – that she could not handle the “physicality” of the job. She was urged to apply for a desk job instead.

Apparent rationale: In the manager’s professional opinion, based on years of parking cars, a woman could not perform such a back-breaking feat.

  • In the R&L Carriers case, the EEOC alleges straight-up discrimination; no women are hired as dockworker and loaders, even when they are qualified candidates.

Apparent rationale: Some jobs are for dudes, and you’re not a dude.

Physical requirements can be an unfair barrier to women

The EEOC litigation will prompt a close look at physical ability requirements in candidate screening and hiring, particularly in traditionally male occupations. Courts have generally upheld the right of employers to use physical ability as a hiring criteria, with a few caveats: (a) physical tests must reflect the actual job duties, and (b) minimum requirements cannot be set arbitrarily high to exclude women.

For instance, only 7 percent of U.S. firefighters are female, chiefly because so few can pass the rigorous obstacle course exams. Through equal opportunity lawsuits, the physical ability standards have been scaled back in many jurisdictions to give female applicants a fighting chance to win the job and prove themselves. Detractors say the revised standards are watered down and compromise safety. Proponents say the standards were based on male demographics and were unnecessarily tough — no firefighter performs all those feats in an actual fire call.

Is the job really that rigorous?

Most blue-collar jobs do not require “American Ninja” strength and agility. Basic physical fitness is typically sufficient, and those who truly can’t do the work will soon quit or be let go. Too often, the barrier to employment is not women’s muscles but men’s outdated attitudes.

This blog was originally published at passmanandkaplan.com on August 8, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Authors: Founded in 1990 by Edward H. Passman and Joseph V. Kaplan, Passman & Kaplan, P.C., Attorneys at Law, is focused on protecting the rights of federal employees and promoting workplace fairness.  The attorneys of Passman & Kaplan (Edward H. Passman, Joseph V. Kaplan, Adria S. Zeldin, Andrew J. Perlmutter, Johnathan P. Lloyd and Erik D. Snyder) represent federal employees before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and other federal administrative agencies, and also represent employees in U.S. District and Appeals Courts.

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